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tv   Frontline  PBS  July 13, 2011 4:00am-5:00am EDT

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>> tonight on frontline, four confessions. >> i grabbed michelle. >> forced her to have intercourse. >> i was there. >> raping her. >> i stabbed her. >> four men... >> he got me to confess. >> i broke and... >> told him... >> whatever he wanted... >> to hear. >> one case... >> four people interrogated coercively... >> ...that cracks open the justice system. >> ...confess to a crime that they didn't commit. forget the truth, forget justice. >> tonight, on frontline, "the confessions."
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>> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major funding is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. and by reva and david logan. committed to investigative journalism as the guardian of the public interest. additional funding is provided by the park foundation. dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. and by the frontline journalism fund with a grant from scott nathan and laura debonis.
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>> narrator: july 1997, the naval station in norfolk, virginia. a sailor, william bosko, had just returned from sea. eager to see his new wife, he rushed home to this apartment complex. what he found inside horrified him. he ran next door to his neighbor, danial williams. >> william bosko came over, beating on my door, yelling frantically that his wife was dead.
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and i grabbed my phone, called 9-1-1, and went to see what... how i could help. >> you are clear. 8-8-14, clear. >> narrator: the police arrived minutes later. there was no forced entry. the apartment was clean and tidy, except for the bedroom, where michelle moore-bosko had been brutally raped and murdered. to the police, it looked like a single assailant. maureen evans was the lead detective. >> within an hour and a half of discovering the body, maureen evans asked the victim's friend, tamika taylor, "what's your hunch? what... what does your gut tell you about who might have committed this crime?" >> narrator: tamika taylor, a
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young woman who lived in the complex, had only known michelle for a month. she pointed to the next door neighbor. at the time of the murder, danial williams was 25 and a machinist's mate in the navy. he had been married for just 11 days. he and his wife nicole had thought they were expecting a child when they found out, to their dismay, that she was suffering from ovarian cancer. his parents were visiting them from michigan. >> my parents and nicole had gone to dinner, expecting me to join them shortly. >> narrator: williams left the apartment and drove himself to the police station. >> i expected to just answer some questions-- why was i the one to call 911 and not her husband? it was a half hour to 45 minutes
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into the questioning is when they started accusing me of raping and killing michelle bosko. >> narrator: they wanted him to take a polygraph test. he agreed. >> they told me that i had failed the polygraph test, and that i needed to start telling the truth about what i did. >> narrator: in fact, danial passed the test. >> but the police didn't tell him that he passed the test; the police told him that he failed the lie detector test. and that really began an intense interrogation of danial that lasted for over nine hours. >> being in a small room, and you have a person sitting over
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across the table from you that's getting in your face, yelling at you, calling you a liar, poking you in the chest with their finger. and then turns around and says, "well, i can help you if you tell me the truth. tell me what happened." and it went on and on and on throughout the night, with them calling me a liar, telling me that i needed to tell the truth. and i kept telling them, "i am telling you the truth. i didn't do it." >> the goal of an interrogation is to get a confession. that's the single overriding goal. prior to an interrogation, police have made up their mind that the person is guilty. you don't interrogate somebody unless you first believe they're guilty. >> maureen evans interrogated danial for over eight hours.
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but she was not able to get danial to confess. and eventually, she gave way to another detective, detective ford, and he was a detective who had a reputation for getting people to confess. >> ford is a very intimidating person. he's like a bulldog. he just kept relentlessly going at me throughout the night to get me to confess. and he got what he wanted. he got me to confess. even though it was a false confession. >> some people have very strong personalities, and they will never break, and other people have very weak personalities, and most of us are somewhere in between. but what people who have never been interrogated have to understand is that interrogation can be very intense.
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a lot of psychological pressure, sometimes in a small space for a long period of time. people break, sometimes, in response to that pressure. and they think the only way to save themselves is to put an end to that interrogation. >> confessions can go for over 24 hours. so many people say, "well, how could you confess to a crime that you never did?" well, i'll tell you something-- put them in a room with me, i could do it. you know how i'm going to be asking you? "are you deaf? you're not deaf, right?" >> interviewer: no. >> "no. well, talk louder. i'm asking you a question. are you deaf?" >> interviewer: no. >> "okay. now, you want to go to jail? you want to get the death penalty? or do you want me to help you out?" >> interviewer: of course, i don't want to go to jail. i don't want to get the death penalty. >> "so?
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then tell me what the hell happened there and i'll help you out. but don't look at me like that. we're sitting here ten ( bleep ) damn hours. how much longer are we going to do this?" >> interviewer: i don't know. >> "you don't know? well, it's up to you. don't tell me you don't know. you failed the polygraph, so you're not going to tell me you didn't do it. we're going to go here all night. you're not leaving this room." >> narrator: danial williams confessed after 11 hours of interrogation. >> "i got her in the back room and i forced her to have intercourse with me. she resisted and i hit her a couple of times with my hand. i grabbed a flat hard shoe, and i struck her with it. and then i got up and left." >> the problem was that the confession that danial gave was completely inconsistent with the facts of the crime. >> the first thing they should have done is understood the crime that they were investigating.
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they didn't even know the results of the autopsy. for example, williams said that he'd beaten her with a shoe, denied choking her, denied using any sort of a weapon, when in fact she was not beaten. and she was choked, and there was a weapon used. she was stabbed. >> narrator: overnight, detective evans received the autopsy report. michelle was not hit with a shoe or anything else. she was stabbed and strangled. the detective rushed back to danial to question him some more. >> she started questioning me more about it, and she had, at one point, demonstrated on herself and where michelle was stabbed at in her chest. >> narrator: danial got the message and amended his confession. now he remembered that there was a knife. >> he couldn't describe the knife, but he might have stabbed her, and... and these sorts of things. and they were satisfied. no concern about multiple
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offenders. they were convinced they'd solved the crime. >> narrator: danial was charged with rape and murder less than 24 hours after the body was discovered. all during the interrogation, danial williams never used his right to ask for a lawyer. >> probably really sank in after that that, you know, i messed up. i should have stood my ground. >> i think it's a prejudice most of us have that, if you're innocent, you don't need to call for a lawyer, because innocence is... is its own defense. innocence can defend itself. and if you call for a lawyer, it looks a little bit sleazy. it looks as if you've got something to hide and need a professional of the law to... to help you hide it. the trouble with that is that
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innocence can't defend itself against a really clever interrogation. >> narrator: by the time danial realized what he had done, it was too late. he had confessed and the case was closed. >> "why in the world would you weeks went by. detective maureen evans left the force for another job. detective ford was dealing with other cases. then, four months later, startling news-- the results of danial's dna were back, and they did not match the semen left at the crime scene. >> instead of objectively looking at the case and his involvement and figuring out, "what does the dna tell us?" they assumed he still had to have been involved, but there had to have been somebody else. >> narrator: they kept the dna results secret and went looking for danial's accomplice.
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they picked his roommate, a fellow sailor on the uss saipan. his name was joe dick, jr. >> when i heard he confessed, it was just something that was hard to believe. it's like i know he couldn't have done it, because he had just married nicole and he... he loved nicole. >> joe dick is one of the most interesting people involved in this case, and i think key to understanding this case. his confession stands out, because he came to believe that he must have been involved in this crime. >> it's an experience that will never leave me. there are some things that i won't talk about-- not because i'm ashamed of it, but because i just don't want to talk about it.
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>> narrator: he would become the most important witness in the case. six months after the murder, naval security turned joe over to the norfolk police. detective glenn ford was waiting for him. >> they started asking me where i was when this happened, and i told them that i was on the ship. ford's saying i'm lying. he's starting to get ticked off. he's raising his voice. he keeps coming back with, "we know you were there. we can prove you were there. you can get the death penalty." i kept denying it. we went and did a polygraph. he comes back with the results, and he says i'm still lying,
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that i failed the polygraph. >> narrator: the results of this polygraph test have never been released. then, ford showed joe a photograph of the dead victim. >> she was laying there and she had on this black t-shirt. i just looked at it. >> narrator: by showing him the photograph, he was fed information that only the perpetrator would have known. after hours of interrogation, he finally told them, he said, what they wanted to hear. >> i told him that i was there and that danny was there. he would ask, "are you sure that it happened in the living room and not the bedroom?" "didn't it happen like this" or "didn't it happen like that?" just to get the story he wants.
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>> narrator: then, for a minute, he had hope. >> and when i'm in the interrogation room, ford said, "we know that you were there and we can prove it. all we need is some dna." i'm like, "sure, go ahead, take it." because i knew for a fact that dna wouldn't be there. and i gave them pubic hair samples, two vials of blood, and samples of hair from the top of my head. anything they wanted. and this was the only thing i was happy about all day, knowing that, yeah, i've got them. ain't going to be there. i'm going to be walking out that front door. they going to have to drop them charges. joke was on me. they didn't... they didn't drop them.
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they kept... they kept them charges in place and put me in prison. >> narrator: once again, they would arrest a suspect, confident that the dna would eventually prove them right. >> pat and joe dick ,sr., joe's parents, live in maryland. >> i came in from work one day and the phone was ringing, and i picked it up. it was the captain of the uss saipan, and he told me that my son had been arrested. and i told him, i says, "joseph dick, jr.?" i says, "do you have the right child? this is not... my son wouldn't be arrested for something like that." and he said no, he said, it was definitely, you know, my son, there was no mistake. >> that evening, joe called us at home and he said to me, "i didn't do it, i didn't do it, i didn't do it."
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and i told joe, i said, "well, you know we understand. believe me, i know that you couldn't have ever been party to something like this." and i said, "why are you still there?" he said, "well, i just told them what they wanted to hear." and that's when the terror set in. and i said, "you didn't sign anything, did you?" "well, yeah, i signed a confession." and i said, "we'll be down first thing in the morning." >> narrator: they drove to norfolk. at the jail, a man handed them the business card of a lawyer named michael fasanaro. fasanaro, a veteran navy lawyer, said he was willing to represent their son for $22,000, a bargain for a complex death penalty trial. >> the attorney felt that i was guilty from day one. >> i certainly thought he was guilty. the client told me he was guilty.
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he had confessed to the police, and then he told me he was involved. >> it's like he gave up from the first day and didn't even try to give me an adequate defense. >> joe was facing the death penalty. the commonwealth approached me and asked me whether or not he might be interested in testifying in behalf of the commonwealth. in return, they would take the death penalty off the case, off the table. i approached mr. dick about it. i approached his parents about it. based upon the evidence, based upon the personality of the client that i had, i considered that, if we went to trial, the death penalty was a legitimate possibility. >> narrator: whatever he thought, fasnaro's biggest problem was joe dick's confession, a problem shared by danial williams' court-appointed lawyer, danny shipley. >> no one in virginia believes that you confess to a murder you
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didn't commit. no one believes it. and... and that's true of judges, true of lawyers. no one believes it, and they'll tell you again and again, "i don't believe someone confesses to a murder they didn't commit." and that's what i'm looking at. and... and to be quite frank with you, when you approach a case, how are we going to handle this case? are we going to try to make a deal, or are we going to go to court and try the case? death changes everything. death-- all your decisions that you make are guided by the fact that, if you make the wrong decision, you make the wrong call, your client's dead. >> interviewer: in virginia. >> in virginia, your client's dead. okay, we're very, very good at killing people, executing people. we're in the top two or three every year. >> narrator: any hope joe had that his dna would save him was dashed. >> my attorney came to me one
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day, he told me my dna didn't match. and i knew that it wasn't going to match, i knew that it wasn't there. and i'm figuring, "okay, i gave them my dna. even though i confessed, they got to kick me loose because that proves right there i didn't do this." but that's not their thinking. they don't care. my attorney told me that there had to be somebody else, and if i cooperate, he can get me a better plea bargain. >> it was in his best interest to try and cooperate the best he could to take the death penalty off the case, because i was convinced, with the brutality of this murder, a jury might very well have given the death penalty. >> one day, mr. fasanaro called here and said, "i've got some bad news for you. i hate to tell you, but your son
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is guilty. he was involved in every bit of this crime, from start to finish." and i just... i just stood there with my mouth open because, up to that point, we believed, always believed our son was innocent, never had any doubt. but now, we've got the guy that we're paying to defend him telling us we got a problem. you know, he's telling us, "he's guilty, he was there for every aspect of the crime. he could get the death penalty. we need to plea bargain, and my job now is to save his life." >> because he said everything hinged on the confession, and there was absolutely no way that they could get past the confession. >> narrator: he advised them to urge joe to tell the truth, and
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name others who were involved. >> he says urge upon him the importance of, you know, cooperate and just tell the truth. so, of course, you know, joe happens to call up, and we're talking to him and i try and impress upon him, you know, "mr. fasanaro says you have to tell the truth, joe. it's really important that you tell the truth, you know, and it'll help you maybe get a better deal or, you know, get the death penalty off or something like that." and, you know, so like we... we had become part of the problem. >> i went ahead and listened to her, because coming from mom, it made sense. >> narrator: urged by his lawyer and then his parents, joe tried hard to give the prosecution what he thought they wanted to hear. >> i just made it up. just telling them what they wanted to hear, when the truth
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of the matter is that everything i told them is their version of the facts, which is a straight- up lie. >> narrator: one of joe's statements involved a young navy man, a friend of the wife of danial williams, named eric wilson. >> well, i got involved in the case because of joseph dick. he had, for reasons of his own, decided to tell the police officers that i was involved. and as soon as i got back off my mediterranean cruise, i was arrested and brought in. >> interviewer: do you know why he did it? >> no. no, i don't know why he did it. >> narrator: on joe's word, eric
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wilson was arrested as a co-conspirator. >> interviewer: how many statements did you make? do you remember? >> three or four. >> interviewer: how about seven? >> seven? i think it was a total of seven statements. >> interviewer: how many were true? >> none of the statements that were made were true. >> interviewer: he was making up stuff. >> i couldn't tell you what was made up because i wasn't there. i had to rely on my client. >> narrator: fasanaro gave joe mixed signals. joe could tell all the stories he wanted, but he had to tell the truth. >> i didn't recommend against his continuing on and cooperating with the authorities. i thought it was in his best interest. >> interviewer: to continue? >> to cooperate. of course. >> interviewer: even though he kept changing the stories? >> well, if they were willing to accept his changes of the stories, and it was going to benefit mr. dick, then by all means continue, but try and tell the truth.
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>> narrator: after months in jail, depressed and confused, joe began to believe the police theories. >> after giving the detectives the names that they wanted, it became a natural thought to me that i did this. >> narrator: joe's growing belief in his guilt would prove crucial for the case. then, two months after his arrest, eric wilson's dna came back negative. so detective ford went back to joe to ask for new names. as usual, joe complied. he gave a new statement in which he claimed that there were three other men involved-- two whose names he didn't know, and one who he named george clark. >> interviewer: did you know george clark? >> no, i didn't know george
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clark, but i knew derek, and that's who it turned out to be. >> narrator: the police couldn't find a george clark, but the description and resulting police sketch looked somewhat like derek tice. >> a friend of ours said, "well, there's a guy named derek that was on the george washington in the navy." so they got a cruise book from the george washington, showed it to joe. he flipped through it, saw me, said, "yeah, that's the guy." >> narrator: derek was another friend of danial. he was arrested in florida and taken to norfolk, virginia, for questioning. he, too, was taken to the interrogation room... to face glenn ford. >> ford, he postured like a bulldog-- leaning towards me, yelling at me, calling me a
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liar, telling me i was going to die. and this went on for eight hours. i'd keep telling him i didn't know anything about the crime. i wasn't there. but he had in his mind what he thought was the truth, and until i said what he wanted me to... to say, i wasn't getting out of that room. >> narrator: after 11 hours, he signed a confession. allan zaleski was derek's court- appointed lawyer. he has practiced criminal law for 40 years. >> interviewer: why do you think he confessed? >> you might ask him why he did it. why did he sign a statement saying he committed these... these... murdered a woman, raped a woman, stabbed her and everything? why would you do that if you didn't do it? >> at least, every, i'd say 30 seconds, ford was saying, "you
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keep saying you weren't there, you keep lying to us, you're going to die. you're going to get the needle. how does it feel to die?" and after the nine hours, my thinking was, "my only options are tell him a lie, tell him what he wants to hear and live, or keep telling the truth and die." >> they were threatened. they were all threatened with the death penalty. they were told they would receive the death penalty if they didn't confess, and the only way to avoid the death penalty was if they stopped denying and started admitting to what the interrogators believed they had done. >> i was scared and i didn't know what to do. everything i said was scripted by ford. all the details i gave about the apartment were because of photos he showed me of the crime scene. i was so mentally and
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emotionally drained by them that i didn't care what the truth was. i was willing to tell them whatever they wanted to hear, just to make them stop. >> narrator: the confession, derek said, was carefully crafted. >> it was an hour and a half to two hours of rehearsal, of going over the statement over and over and over again, adding a piece here, adding a piece there, until it was a big enough story that ford liked, and he was, like, "okay." then once we got that, we had to go back over it three more times, just to make sure that i had all the parts and pieces together. and then he goes, "okay, now we're going to record it." when the rest of us got inside,
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we disrobed her, held her down. i had one leg, eric had the other leg. it was just so not me. it was a robot. >> dan was the first to have intercourse with her. i was the second. eric was third. >> narrator: since joe dick said in one of his statements that derek was involved in the crime with two unknown men, derek now had to identify them. >> "who was it?" and i said the first name that popped into my head. i said, "well, geoffrey farris." next name that popped into my head was rick pauley. and because they popped into my head and i uttered their names, they were arrested. >> narrator: by then, four men were in jail-- danial, joe, eric and derek.
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then, with pauley and farris, there were six. and there was still no dna match. so the police went back to derek. >> they decided to give me a plea agreement as long as i named the dna match. >> interviewer: how would you know the dna match? >> i wouldn't. but, you know, at that time, i was like, "well, i don't know who the dna match is but, you know, i'll give it a shot." >> narrator: ford seemed interested in a former navy man named john danser. >> he wants me to put john danser into the story," so it was like, "okay, well, you want him there, john was there." >> narrator: the problem was that danser had an alibi. the day of the crime happened to have been his birthday. >> my client's alibi was that he
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was living in warminster, pennsylvania, at the time, which is right outside of philadelphia. he was working with an hvac company the entire day of the murder. he came home, took a shower, went out with friends to celebrate his birthday, and then went back to work the next morning. that was his alibi. >> so they brought me back to the police headquarters and said "hey, john danser's got an alibi a mile long." >> interviewer: who said it? >> that was robert glenn ford. he said, "you lied to me, that's it. john danser didn't do it. john danser wasn't there." but guess what? they still prosecuted him. they didn't let him go, even with an air-tight alibi. as far as the commonwealth of virginia is concerned, john danser was in that apartment. so i had to testify at his preliminary hearing. >> interviewer: saying? >> saying that he was there. >> narrator: detective ford would not talk to us, despite
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repeated requests, but in a deposition in 2006, he made the following statement. >> what's the truth about what occurred? >> that every one of them was guilty. and i still believe that today. >> how many people is that? >> every one of them. >> ford had to protect his work. he couldn't come back looking ridiculous, or how in the world could... can one detective take so many confessions. somebody is going to wake up. unfortunately, nobody did in this case. the writing was on the wall. everyone's dna is coming back negative. isn't anyone going to wake up here? where's your prosecutor? >> narrator: the prosecutor, dj hansen, also refused to give an interview on camera. but in 2001, he appeared on a tv program called medical detectives about the case, expressing full confidence in the work of the police.
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>> the police detectives in this case were very professional. it's not their business to obtain confessions at any cost. they're interested in the truth. >> narrator: in a part of the interview which never aired, hansen revealed his thoughts about the growing pool of defendants. >> when i look back on it, it seems as though when, as frustrating as it was to have this dna come back that it was not these guys one after the other, it was almost as though michelle was telling us that you don't have everybody yet. and if that was the one thing i take away from this case that... that we were able to get as many people as we were, as though she kept telling us that you don't have them all yet and there's more. and it just so happened that that's the way the... the case fell-- that one after the other, these men at first wouldn't implicate themselves, and eventually, some implicated everybody. so we knew that this was a gang rape and murder, without a
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doubt. >> narrator: there were now seven. >> instead of sitting down, saying, "you know, there's a problem here with this case. this case is nothing like we've seen before. it's going in 12 different directions. it goes this way, then it goes this way." and the only thing they were concerned about was preserving the people they had already charged, preserving those convictions. they would bend their theory of the case to conform to the new confession, the new physical evidence. any time somebody confessed, there were discrepancies, so they would come and say, "well, our theory here was wrong, but we've tweaked it a little bit, so now we're going this way with it." they were simply bending their case to fit what evidence... whatever evidence came before them. >> narrator: danser's case marked a turning point for derek. he recanted his confession. >> when it got to the trial date, he couldn't do it, and
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told me, "i can't do this. i cannot throw my friends under the bus." >> so about a month later, i signed the paperwork pulling out of the plea agreement, and within a week, rick pauley, geoffrey farris and john danser were released because there wasn't enough evidence. >> narrator: as for derek himself, he would have to go to trial, where he would now face the death penalty. then, an unexpected turn. a woman gave the police a letter which her daughter-in-law had received from a man in prison. his name was omar abdul ballard. the letter ended with a stunning admission-- that he, ballard, killed michelle bosko. >> "you remember that night i went to mommy's house, and the next morning, michelle got
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killed? guess who did that. me. ha, ha." ballard had been in prison for two years after viciously beating a woman in the same apartment complex where michelle was murdered. he also raped a 14-year-old girl less than a mile away. both crimes were committed within three weeks of michelle's murder. ballard's dna, which had been stored since his arrest a year and a half before, was quickly analyzed. it was a match. >> he was in custody shortly after michelle moore-bosko was killed. he had these convictions, his dna was in the databank, and nobody did anything to try to run it through the databank to see if there was a match. >> interviewer: because if there was a match, the whole case wouldn't have happened? >> their theory would have fallen apart in a big way, but if they had done it, and they'd learned of the match much
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earlier on, then five or six other people would never have been investigated, would never have been charged. >> narrator: ballard confessed almost immediately, and said he had acted alone. >> i was on cloud nine, because now they've got a dna match and he's saying he did it alone. hey, when somebody's dna matches, it proves they were there. he's saying he did it alone. i go to trial, i'm going home. >> i thought it would be any day now they would let me go, and that i would be able to go home. but my lawyer... my lawyer was ever the realist, and he said "don't expect it. that's not how the system works. you're going to go to trial." >> narrator: and that's what happened. the state was undeterred.
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after two years of secret interrogations, accusations, and confessions, eric wilson would be the first of the accused to go to trial. >> since i did not do it, and then when the dna evidence came back, i knew... i knew in my heart that i would not be convicted, because i wasn't there and i could prove it. >> narrator: but by now, the prosecution had a new theory involving eight people-- the four original sailors, the three who had been released, and omar ballard, who the prosecution believed was part of what was now a gang rape, in spite of his claim that he'd acted alone. >> i remember mr. ballard arriving on the scene, and it was... it was a surprising event. and the funny thing was that he
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said that he acted alone, and... and of course, the detectives were trying to get him to bring in the... the other seven, and he said, "no, i did it myself." >> narrator: the new prosecution theory was an even more complicated conspiracy-- that, by chance, ballard had met the seven defendants in the parking lot of the building complex, and decided to join them in the crime. >> ballard clearly was... was directly responsible for this... this crime. but there was no association between ballard and the navy guys, yet they had to weave this preposterous sort of conspiracy theory together where these seven or eight navy guys were in the parking lot, trying to get into the apartment, but they couldn't. well, this goes against the initial theory-- that williams went into the apartment because he knew her. well... but now, they couldn't get in. but now, ballard came along, a stranger-- they said, "hey, we
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have this great idea. we want to rape and murder this woman in this apartment. would you help us?" and ballard said, "oh, yeah, for sure, no problem. i'll... i'll get you in. it's not a problem." and then these eight guys or nine guys go into the apartment, and according to the state's theory, raped and murdered her. >> narrator: ballard appeared at the trial only to plead the fifth. the judge informed the jury that ballard's dna matched the semen found in the victim, and that he claimed to have acted alone. the key witness for the prosecution was joe dick. led by the prosecutor, joe described the crime of eight men raping and stabbing the victim. >> we all rushed in. we grabbed her. somebody put their hand over her mouth. >> how did you grab her? >> i grabbed the left leg. somebody else grabbed the right leg. there were two more people on the arms, and somebody had their hand over her mouth. >> what did you do?
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>> we all took turns. i'm not sure the order. >> took turns doing what? >> raping her. >> i should have been angry. i should have just been so angry with him, because he was up there, saying that my son did these horrible things that i knew he didn't do. and instead of being angry at him, i could only feel sorry for him. he was such a sad person, just a shell of a person saying what he had to say to save his life. >> narrator: eric took the stand in his own defense. he claimed that his confession was false and was extracted by detective ford, who was, he said, "very aggressive, very threatening, very angry." the prosecutor asked eric if he would confess to killing someone if it weren't true.
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>> at that point in time, if they had told me that i killed jfk, i would have told them that i handed oswald the gun. >> narrator: both eric and his lawyer were optimistic. >> i honestly and truly felt that i was going to go home that day a free man. >> narrator: but then, his audio-taped confession was played in open court to a riveted jury. >> dan, joe and michelle went and sat on this couch. they were just talking a little bit, and dan grabbed her, put her on the ground, and everyone started wrestling. they asked me to join in. i said, "fine." >> when confessions are introduced at a trial, what happens is the presumption of innocence goes out the window. >> i looked up and dan was about to start raping her. and i believe i went in next.
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i remember specifically her looking up at me, afterwards, after i had finished, and asking me to help her. but i didn't know what to do. i was confused. >> narrator: the jury's verdict was "guilty of rape." >> my statement is what got me convicted. it felt like someone hit me in the stomach, and it took everything i had not to collapse to my knees right there. >> narrator: hwas sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. >> i was 20 years old when i went to the persian gulf. i was 29 when i was finally able to walk a free man. >> narrator: eight months after eric's verdict, derek went to his trial. >> dan started to strangle her
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to keep her from talking, and to kill her, i made the statement, "just get a knife and stab her." >> narrator: he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. his jury, too, couldn't get over the confession. danial and joe decided not to face a jury. danial took a plea of life without parole, and joe, life in prison. the confessions doomed them all. >> dan stabbed her, i stabbed her... >> narrator: no one doubted that what they were hearing was the absolute truth. >> eric stabbed her, joe stabbed her, and rick pauley also stabbed her. >> narrator: the one confession no one believed was omar ballard's-- that he had acted alone. in 2010, ballard agreed to talk to us by phone from prison where
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he is serving a life sentence. >> this call originates from a virginia correctional facility, and may be recorded or monitored. i have a prepaid call... >> narrator: he avoided the death penalty by cutting a deal with the prosecution, agreeing to say that he committed the crime with the four original sailors. 13 years after the murder, he wanted us to know the truth, he said, which he stands by.
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>> narrator: by 2001, danial, joe, eric, and derek had become known as the "norfolk four." their case started to attract national attention. in 2004, three major law firms signed on as pro bono advocates. the following spring, they submitted a detailed clemency petition to virginia governor mark warner, who passed it to his successor, tim kaine. governor kaine took three and a half years to reach a decision, which he announced shortly before leaving office. >> i am denying the request, because i do not believe that the petitioners have met the burden that they have of demonstrating conclusively that they are innocent of all involvement in this crime. >> narrator: he would deny a request for full pardon. the confessions, he said, were too overwhelming to ignore.
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>> i find, just as i believe the jury and judge found in this case, that it is difficult to completely ignore the entire weight of these confessions. >> narrator: but in the end, he said, he also had grave doubts about their guilt, so he granted the three still in prison conditional pardons. >> i am granting a conditional pardon to three of the individuals. >> narrator: derek, danial and joe were released the next day, august 10, 2009. they would be free but not exonerated. they would be branded felons and sex offenders. if there was anyone who understood what their life would be like, it was eric.
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he'd been released four years before. >> once you have been convicted of this type of crime, you will be paying for it for the rest of your life. >> narrator: three years ago, he met misty. they got married. they love each other, but they struggle. >> we can't move into town, because we're worried about what the neighbors will do, what they will say. >> some areas actually require the police to knock door to door, and ask every one of your neighbors if it's okay if i move into the area. >> yes, so, we... >> and if one neighbor says that it's not okay, you're not allowed to move into that area. >> narrator: they have a two year old child, and misty has a seven-year-old from a previous relationship, garret. >> our oldest, he does not know anything about this, but it's not going to be long and he's going to start noticing that
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people look at us different. >> i think the hardest thing is garrett. eric is the only dad he's ever known, and he constantly asks why he has a different name, and more than anything, eric wants to adopt him. we actually had tried, at one point, but they told us he would have to pass a background check and he can't. and it... it broke our hearts. >> narrator: so they are out, but they are not free. they have moved back to their parents', trying to put their lives together, finding solace mainly at home. nicole williams, danial's wife, died while he was in prison.
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>> i'm not sure if i'll have a family, because i don't know if there's someone that's going to want to be around me. i have to be registered as a sex offender for the next 25 years. >> i basically built myself a new cell, my bedroom. when i'm not at work, when i'm not in the kitchen eating dinner, i'm in my bedroom, watching tv, sleeping, because that's where i'm safe. so all i did was trade one cell for another. and until my name is cleared, that's how it's going to have to be.
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>> next time, a frontline exclusive. bin laden is dead, but the surge in afghanistan continues. the strategy: >> kill and capture as many as you can. make them ask for peace. >> the hurdles: >> launching those attacks-- are we creating more militants than we're killing? >> and the timeline for getting out. >> it could take years, and i don't think anybody knows. >> "kill/capture"-- a frontline investigation. >> there's much more on the norfolk four case on frontline's web site. >> i certainly thought he was guilty. >> experts explain how easy it is to get a false confession. >> i'm asking a question.
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are you deaf? >> how it trumps all other evidence, and why most interrogation techniques are legal. and there's more on frontline's web site. watch more than 100 full programs; explore interactive timelines and frontline on facebook and twitter. or join the discussion at >> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major funding is provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. and by reva and david logan. committed to investigative journalism as the guardian of the public interest. additional funding is provided by the park foundation. dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical
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issues. and by the frontline journalism fund with a grant from scott nathan and laura debonis. captioned by media access group at wgbh >> for more on this and other frontline programs visit >> frontline's "the confessions" is available on dvd. to order, visit or call 1-800-play-pbs.
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